Friday, May 9, 2014

Stephen Hawking conference

Caltech regularly organizes conferences of all kinds and the last one in which we sat in dealt with the birth of the universe and was presented by Hawking . Stephen Hawking, for any respecting nerd, is a scientific reference in cosmology even if Jibouille and I know absolutely nothing about it.
Do not ask me why, maybe the synthesis voice, but he is highly publicized and is found both in Simpsons and Big Bang Theory (Sheldon is beaten by Hawking during a game) or Futurama and Star Trek. For those who do not know, Hawking is a British cosmologist known both for his work on black holes and his popular works as "A Brief History of Time". It is also known as he suffers from a disease that progressively paralyzes him and because of which he is in a wheelchair and communicates through a computer and voice synthesis.

The VIP of the conference
This conference was eagerly awaited by all Caltech (apparently it comes to a conference every year and it is always very popular) and so we started with a good half-hour wait under the sun.

Waiting line for the conference (and we were early!) and auditorium at the bottom
Auditorium with on the left the lane of JPL and on the right the Caltech queue
We finally entered in the auditorium, and then we waited a bit looking at the pictures of Hawking's life ... I had opportunity to take some pictures of the auditorium to give you a little insight.

Inside of the auditorium

Finally, the conference began and we attended a small presentation of the origin of the universe, fortunately, very much simplified, and therefore relatively easy to follow (even with the language barrier and computer voice!)

At the end of his presentation, some students came to ask questions (3 students whose questions were selected and previously prepared by Hawking). Hawking responded quite funny, like what all scientists are not boring to die;-) I'll put below the introduction of the conference (it is in fact the introduction of an older conference, but it looks like we got). So you have a little insight!

For those who want more information about the character, you can also go take a look at his website:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Visit of the Warner Studios

In this article, I'll tell you about my visit to the Warner Studios with my friend Yoann. We chose the normal pass which includes a tour of the studios by cart and the museum. But I warn you right now: even if you feel more close to reality as Universal Studios, the visit is still a lot less funny!!

First, we visited the outdoor scenery where you can see the uncover scenes.

For instance, here you can see the construction/renovation of a decor. Most of the time, there are just facade decorations, but on this particular site, houses are real with indoor and outdoor modular decorations.

The decoration of this window changes each shoot (and thankfully, otherwise it is shame for them to let mistakes as big! "Le patisserie"...)
And here is what the inside looks like: the modular part is multicolored.
Despite their realism, it should not be forgotten that it still settings. And said sets, said cardboard! Can you detect the false from the true in the photo below??

Except Friends and Big Bang Theory, I did not know much about the series filmed there, but we have seen a lot about these two series! We saw the film sets of Big Bang Theory. Unfortunately, it was forbidden to take pictures of stages, but I'll try to summarize with pictures from CBS. The plate consists of two fixed sets: the stairs of the building with the broken elevator and the Sheldon and Leonard's apartment as well as a modular decor.

"Fun with flags" in Sheldon and Leonard's apartment
The staircase as seen in the series ...
And ... the reality
The modular decor can also be used both as the Penny's apartment and as the cafeteria. It is disassembled and reassembled each episode!

Penny's apartment
Space Capsule (but I do not know if the modular set was used or another one)
We also visited the old sets of Friends: Geller's home and the Central Perk (The rest of the decor was destroyed).

The Central Perk
Geller's home. Yoann reminds someone?  (Answer below at 2'40'')
After the sets, we visit technical platforms. We can see where all the sets are created, but also the warehouses full of objects and costumes for the shootings.

 Après les décors, on visite les plateaux techniques. On peut ainsi voir là où sont créés tous les décors, mais aussi des entrepôts remplis d'objets et de costumes pour les tournages.

Not so glamorous, isn't it?
Finally, the visit ends by a tour in the car center and in the museum. The museum is pretty cool because you can see lots of costumes and accessories. Among other, the Hagrid's costume (Harry Potter) is super impressive. One can thus realize that the Hollywood clothing size is very far from the average size, e.g. Rachel from Friends who looks quite normal has a waist equivalent to a garden hose ... (I hardly exaggerate!).
Unfortunately, we can not take pictures here, so you'll have to come to figure out with your own eyes! However, we could take pictures of the cars, so here some to bait you!

Austin Power's car
Space capsule of Big Bang Theory
Batman's cars
Weasley's car (Harry Potter)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Science Center Visit

The California Science Center is one of the many museums in Exposition Park. This one is a large cultural center organized around a garden in the vicinity of USC (University of Southern California or Trojan university for those who follow a little the American football).

If as a tourist, it is not of great interest, this is not the case for local residents. Basically it's just the equivalent of "la Villette" in France (however, less successful in my opinion, because maybe a little too simplistic, while "la Cité des Sciences" in Paris can stay interesting for all audiences).
Nevertheless, if you are passionate about museums or if you have a little time to spend in L.A., a visit there may be worth it. Indeed, you can not only visit the Science Center, but also the California African American Museum, the Natural History Museum of LA County, the Rose Garden, the Expo Center and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Sports Arena.

Exposition Park
USC's stadium
L.A. Memorial Coliseum

A bit of history...

Exposition Park was originally Agricultural Park, a field for agricultural fairs. In 1912, the first building was built on the site of the Science Center and allowed to explore the agricultural resources of the region. After the Second World War, exhibitions have evolved to present more the role of science and technology in everyday life. In consequence, the building took a new name in 1951: the California Museum of Science and Industry.
In the 90s, new guidelines have been agreed, giving the museum its name and its current configuration (the last elements of the upgrading plan of the museum have just been completed).
For architecture lovers, it is interesting to notice that part of the museum was designed by Frank Gehry (although nothing is special in my opinion).

Picture of the Science center website (the weather was not good when we came).

Guided Visit :

We'll here put things that we visited or, at least, skimmed (we arrived one again too late to have time to see everything), but there are of course many other exhibitions that you can find through the following link:

For sustainable development fans (Ecosystems) :

This part of the museum is the latest, but also the most current and probably the most interactive. You can discover many ecosystems such as extreme areas, forest areas, island areas, the vicinity of rivers or the ecosystem of the region of L.A. As you can see in the video below, this exhibition allows to interact directly with animals, performing small experiments or to get an overview of the California pollution and its effects (Preview that we experienced in live during the L.A. River Cleaning !!) 

For engineering fans (Creative world) :

This is probably the part that should interest me the most, but unfortunately I have had not enough time to do the whole ... So I can just tell you that it is to learn about communication, structure and transport and I will detail you more next time!

For biology fans (World of Life) :

If like me, you are a hopeless case in biology, do not lose hope and go to the "Word of Life" part of the museum. This exhibition tells you everything about living human cells, covering almost all topics and remaining very accessible (anyway, after the 9th grade level, I'm lost, so I needed at least this !). We learn how living things are born, consume energy, get rid of their waste, defend and reproduce.

The interest of this exhibition is that it remains very educational and has many games and simulations (e.g., a driving test being drunk. Besides, if I tell you that I more successful than sober, it will reveal my level of driving ...), as well as living examples (and can attend the birth of chicks!)

Here the eggs hatch, but we see chicks at every stage of their development

For spatial conquest fans (Air and Space exhibits) :

The Science Center welcomes not only the Space Shuttle Endeavour, but also the Red Bull Stratos capsule (remember? The guy who had a free jump from the stratosphere? If it means nothing to you, this is the site record :

For shopping fans:

Of course, the Science Center houses a small store of objects related to Science. This one is large enough, but does not sell anything interesting for me. I found the shop at "la Villette" with all its gadgets and educational objects much more fun! Nevertheless, you will find plenty of objects from the NASA and many books for children, so it is always worth it to go if you want a souvenir.

Practical Information : 

Opening hour: Open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except for Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year Eve and we must also avoid USC football game days)
Price: Free unless you want to do activities such as IMAX. If you come by car, you have to add $10 parking.
Address: 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90037 (parking has 2 entrances but you can go through Figueroa st.)

You can also come by public transport (stop Expo Park / USC).

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Hiking in Santa Monica mountains with the Caltech group

Mimine and I are not great walkers, but we recently had the opportunity to do a walk with my working group and take the opportunity to share this experience with you!
A way that scares...

The tour was organized by a handy site This site allows you to find different rid depending on your location and your level. So it proves quite handy for those who, like us, want to walk without much knowledge of the area.
The appointment was scheduled at 9 a.m. close to the foot of the mountains. For the record, the highway exit that we had to take was closed, and as usual on California roads, you are warned ... at the exit .. , this plus some navigation errors ... (Why does the GPS always display the names of roads instead of directions? when it told us "Take 110 towards Pasadena (...)", we headed to Pasadena ... then find that, in fact, the entire instruction were "Take the 110 towards Pasadena/Santa Monica to Santa Monica" .... ) . Brief after half an hour of wandering, we were back in Pasadena! Time to turn back, knowing that it takes about half an hour to get there, I can tell you that we made ​​a grand entrance!

Well, except talking about our schedule problems, we will also give you some practical information:

- Plan to arrive early, even if there are some corners of shadows, it is very fast very hot!
- Even if it is cold in the morning, no need to take a sweater as Mimine, otherwise it quickly becomes cumbersome !
- If, as Mimine, you are a little blonde yomping in California, and the sun is not your best friend, remember to take with you water, a hat, plenty of sunscreen and a Jibouille to carry everything (especially if you add the sweater in the morning ...) .
- You can park in a parking lot (blue dot on the map). To pay, simply return to the entrance and put the money in an envelope with the plate number registered.

Now, place to pictures!

We not see the picture because the sea was very foggy, but the ride, there are lovely views over the sea.

During our trip, we saw some interesting houses having their own private pool of course, but also their tennis lessons or private basketball, which is less common (see photo below).

House with personal tennis course (and pool of course!)
Swimming pools and tennis courts is good, but it was mostly there to enjoy nature, and we were well served. We saw (almost) a large lizard, probably used to people, because to get the idea to be in the middle of the path, you must love to be observed. (Yes here, even lizards are a bit like Hollywood actors and attract attention of the paparazzi ...)

A Hollywood lizard (sorry for the blur)
After the ride, we went for a well deserved meal in the Santa Monica commercial center. This is a chic and modern shopping center (see photo below) which is 2 minutes from the beach and therefore offers stunning sea views.

Commercial center where is located the restaurant Zengo

Seats to rest. Design, isn't it?
When our whole group landed, sweating and dirty in the restaurant, so we did fit with the decor ... ;-) Fortunately, the restaurant (Zengo ( had anticipated (or our boss, I do not know!) and we had a room reserved for us.

The interior of the restaurant
The outside view
The waiters brought us a multitude of different fusion dishes Latin-Asian (very good by the way - You can find more information in the Guide des restaurant) and we have tested plenty of food. Moreover, all of this was offered by Caltech, so it was really cool! This is totally different comparing to France where I have to pay my meal, or bowling party "Porte de la Chapelle" during the afternoon for Mimine!!!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Walt Disney Concert Hall night

We have access to a lot of events through the CPA (Caltech Postdoc Association) and the last of them was an evening at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I'll tell you a little more details of this evening, and by the way, visit this monument!

The Walt Disney Concert Hall

For those who do not know, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is a concert hall made by the architect Frank Gehry and completed thanks to the donation of the wife of Walt Disney (50 millions plus 85 millions later!!!). This hall is the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Choir of Los Angeles' home and may welcome about 2000 people.

Anecdote: The facade was originally to be made ​​of stone, but because of the over-cost, it was finally made ​​of metal skin. I think this is a happy result because these are the reflections that give all his style to the building! Within the hall is a huge modern organ whose facade was also drawn by F. Gehry with the help of the consultant organ Manuel Rosales.

Organ of  the Walt Disney Concert Hall
The interior of the hall is ok but is still a bit cheap with laminated coatings on walls and RER seats (French railroad public transport), we was a bit like being in a SNCF train station (National French railroad company).

Hall of the Walt Disney Concert Hall

Concert of the Los Angeles philharmonic

Before the concert, we ate there and we expected to find a coffee shop or a nice restaurant. In fact, we only found a self service with chips and chili! Not really the type of restaurant you would expect to find in this kind of place ! By cons, this is expensive and fortunately correct. We learned afterwards that there was an other restaurant much more chic ( French of course!) which seemed pretty good. So, next time we go to a concert, we seek it ... and if it does not cost too much, we will eat there!
Regarding the music, we went to listen to the Stravinsky Violin Concerto with Leila Josefowicz as soloist, and the Brahms Symphony No. 4 all led by Suzanne Mälkki (Music Director of the  Ensemble Intercontemporain). We knew neither one nor the other, but we really enjoyed the performance. (without being very critical either, I must admit!). By cons, we were really confounded by the musician dress code. Indeed, everyone was dressed as if they were shopping : jeans, sneakers, sweats of all colors and the soloist was even dressed in a kind of baggy pants half jogging! That was the same for the audience  (but it was expected). Except these details, we were impressed by the quality of listening angelanos not a single noise during songs and still better, no silly applause as soon as there was a silence. It may seem obsessive, but it's really enjoyable!!!

After the concert

L.A. by night
To end the evening, we went to the Edison bar and we were able to advantage one of the most prominent Los Angeles bars apparently (but not really impressed). The only interest of the bar is the decor and its neat style. The latter pays homage to the building in which the bar is located: a Fine Arts building constructed at the beginning of the century and having its own power generator in the basement for the first time with (where is now the bar). What is funny is then the facts were distorted and now people believe that this bar contains the old Edison's factory! (But this is wrong, of course). Another nice thing: we ran into an animation with a very nice trapeze dancer! Here's the poor quality video of the dancer, but that will give you a glimpse of what we could see!